Why I Wish the CDS Major Existed When I Was a Student

Amber Cavarlez

Amber Cavarlez is a USF ‘13 alum.

It has been close to two years since I graduated from USF. And while I thank USF for the unlimited coffee, outstanding professors—some of whom I’ve remained in contact with—and constant alumni support in helping me find a job, what I thank USF for the most is not physical in its element, but weightier and deeper than I could have imagined: an empathetic and diversified consciousness. 

Recently, there has been some discussion around the necessity and rationale for the emerging Critical Diversity Studies (CDS) major. I wish CDS existed while I was a student; since it did not, I opted to take many cultural diversity classes and minored in Asian American Studies and Philippine Studies as ways to explore my heritage, as well as the backstory of other groups who have been misrepresented and overlooked in conventional U.S. history. The history of those populations—African American, Asian, Indian, European, Latino, and many more—are largely intertwined and essential to the past, and the progress of our country, but still sadly underrepresented.

A misconception of Critical Diversity courses is that they focus more on what is wrong with the American social system, are “too left,” too critical and unwelcoming to students seeking information on the success of ethnic integration and the influx of immigrants compared to other nations. Speaking from personal experience: this is not the case at all.

The Critical Diversity Studies major and classes enrich our conventional American history, by bringing to light the lives of immigrants, women, LGBTQs, and others who are often sidelined in textbooks, next to legends like Christopher Columbus and Johnny Appleseed.

To illustrate, during undergrad, I took a cultural diversity class called “Asians and Pacific Islanders in U.S. Society,” taught by Professor Evelyn Rodriguez, where we studied not only key historical events such as the Gold Rush and the development of the railroad transportation system as a revolutionary form of transit, but also how the influx of immigrants from Asia and other countries helped mine the gold, and build the tracks. Yes—along with Charles Crocker and Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, our history includes immigrants from other countries whose lives added to the Gold Rush and transit development. Through my CDS courses, we can study, critique and broaden our knowledge about them. In learning about how other cultures contributed to our history, I was able to see what continues to attract immigrants to the U.S., and why it is referred to as offering a “golden door” for so many “huddled masses yearning to be free”

CDS has been beneficial for me professionally as well. At my first post-grad job as a counselor at a non-profit, the ability to think critically and recognize patterns of oppression or success have helped me better imagine what might contribute to particular client or colleague personalities and thought-processes.

Cultural diversity classes and the new Critical Diversity Studies major help to tell the whole truth of history, not only shedding light on cultures that need to be recognized, but creating a sense of awareness for a solid, well-rounded education.

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